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Mayor Gains Another Ally for Hotel Site

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By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 15, 2005

The board of the Washington Convention Center Authority recommended yesterday to put what would be the District's largest hotel at the corner of Ninth Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW, siding with Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) in a project considered key to the success of the new convention center.

The 8 to 1 vote came after a four-hour, closed-door meeting of the board, during which the authority also discussed an offer from Marriott International Inc. of Bethesda and Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, to build the $400 million hotel. Their proposal, if approved by the mayor and the D.C. Council, would eliminate the need for the District to issue publicly financed bonds to pay for the construction.

"We welcome the opportunity to analyze their offer and talk to them," said Jim Abdo, a District-based developer and head of the authority's development committee. "We think Marriott and Mr. Johnson are very credible people, and they certainly could be qualified to build it, but until we peel back the onion of the offer and see what we have, it's too early for us to tell."

The authority did not establish a timetable for making a recommendation on the Marriott proposal.

The decision of where to put the hotel has been hotly contested. Williams preferred putting the hotel at the Ninth Street site, as the authority has now recommended; D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) has argued that the hotel might be cheaper to build on the 10.5-acre site of the old convention center, two blocks away.

The authority's recommendation must still be approved by the mayor and the council, giving Cropp a further chance to intervene. But Cropp yesterday said that the offer from Marriott and Johnson could lead her to drop her opposition to the Ninth Street site, near Mount Vernon Square.

"If Marriott and Bob Johnson want to pay to build the hotel at the Ninth Street site, I could possibly be supportive of it," Cropp said. "I need to look at the figures. . . . I would prefer [a] private hotel group going in and paying for it versus the city."

The board's recommendation was based on a nearly completed, but still unreleased, consultants' report that concluded construction at either site would cost about the same. Abdo said the board supported putting the hotel at the Ninth Street location, which is owned by D.C. developer Kingdon Gould III, because it wants the hotel as close as possible to the new convention center.

"Location, location, location of the hotel is key to making the convention center a success," Abdo said.


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